By Jessica Avenia
Recently, I joined fellow public relations students at Hofstra’s PRSSA Regional Conference, which kicked-off with the “Welcome to New York” Networking Mixer. It was the perfect way to launch the conference because it gave us a chance to connect with young professionals in a laid-back atmosphere next to the Empire State Building, a novel experience for students visiting from out of state.
As graduate committee chair for the Hofstra PRSSA chapter, I was in charge of securing the venue and executing the final details of the event. This responsibility gave me hands-on experience on the event planning side of public relations. It also allowed me to take a step back to observe the interactions taking place with plenty of networking tips to takeaway.
I enjoy meeting new people and consider myself a friendly person, but I absolutely dread going to networking events and having to talk about myself with strangers. The pressure can be overwhelming, as though somehow you don’t fit in because you’re still a student.
That right there is the wrong mindset to have.
Remember, every professional started where you are. Some might be natural networkers, but they most probably learned through experience until they got it right. The key is being confident in what you know, asking questions about what you don’t know and listening to your peers. At the mixer, I actually encountered someone with whom I had a few mutual friends. Once you find that connection, you go with it, engage in conversation and just be yourself. Experiences as a student are interesting and valid, as long as you express passion and eagerness to learn.
Networking can be intimidating for students who are breaking into the field and lack work experience to share. I think school events are the perfect place to build confidence and get accustomed to comfortably introducing yourself to professionals. A few students and I noticed others missing out on this great opportunity by not approaching any of the professionals. We decided two of us would make introductions throughout the night to ensure each student connected with at least one professional. Once they realized most of the professionals were recent Hofstra graduates who not long ago were in the same shoes, they started to let their guard down and enjoyed the rest of the night conversing, asking questions and even exchanging business cards.
The Hofstra PRSSA “Welcome to New York” Networking Mixer was undeniably a wonderful learning experience, and I am thankful I was able to be a part of it. The guests were friendly, approachable and very excited to share their PR stories with us. I now feel that I can go to any networking event and present myself with confidence and not be intimidated by going up to a professional and introducing myself.